Consumers Beware!

Appeal strongly against delay

Appeal strongly against delay

Photo for representational purpose only.

Pushpa Girimaji

I had filed a complaint before the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission over a defective television set sold to me. I won the case and the retailer was asked to replace the set and also pay compensation. Five months after the order, the retailer has filed an appeal. Is this not time-barred? What should be my response?

The appeal is certainly time-barred and the retailer will obviously ask for condonation of delay, but you must protest against it and seek dismissal of the appeal on grounds of limitation.

Section 41 of the Consumer Protection Act of 2019 provides for filing of an appeal against the order of the District Commission on grounds of facts or law before the State Commission, but within 45 days from the date of the order. It further states that the Commission may entertain an appeal after the expiry of that period “if it is satisfied that there was sufficient cause for not filing it within that period”.

Now, many businesses exploit this and file appeals late and give an application for overlooking the delay. Frankly, such delay should be overlooked only in the rarest of rare cases, and only where there are genuine reasons, beyond the control of the appellant that prevented him from filing an appeal. Filing a case after a long delay shows disrespect towards law and has to be dealt with strongly.

Unfortunately, consumer courts have been quite liberal in their interpretation of the provision for condonation of delay and pardoned even unduly long delays. Things are changing for the better and I would urge you to argue strongly against condoning the delay and admitting the appeal.

Can you quote some recent order?

A recent order of the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in HDFC Bank Ltd Vs Deepak Goyal (RP No 438 of 2021, date of order October 12, 2021) will be of help to you. Here, even though the notice was served on the bank by the District Commission, the bank did not represent its case — its explanation being that the bank employee who received the notice did not inform the higher officials!

The District Commission directed the bank to refund Rs87,375 charged from the complainant for certain unauthorised transactions, pay a compensation of Rs10,000 and costs of Rs5,000. The bank filed an appeal before the State Commission, which dismissed it on grounds of limitation. In response to the revision petition filed by the bank, the apex consumer court observed that the bank had sought, before the State Commission, condonation of a delay of 274 days or 195 days after excluding the lockdown period. The bank had further argued that the delay was only 66 days, after taking into consideration the relaxation granted by the Supreme Court on account of the situation arising out of Covid-19. “Though we do not wholly agree with such submission but even on its own admission, appeal was filed with a delay of 66 days in the State Commission,” the National Commission observed.

What the Commission said while dismissing the revision petition should serve as a warning to all those who think they can get away with delayed appeals:

“… ordinarily, we tend to adopt a liberal approach on the aspect of considering the point of condonation of delay and lean to take an indulgent view towards the side who seeks such condonation. It is for this reason that we prefer that a matter be decided on merits rather than closed at the threshold stage i.e. on the ground of delay but that does not imply that we may ever ride roughshod over the statutory requirement regarding the law of limitation wherever it has been provided by the legislature in its wisdom.”

The Commission further said: “It does not need much elaboration to state that when the period of limitation expires, it simultaneously gives rise to a right which accrues to the other side and the other side cannot be divested of its accrued right for no adequate reason; that is why, whenever there is a delay, and whenever condonation on that aspect is sought, by either side, it has to discharge the onus of showing such factual basis from which may emanate the convincing grounds relying upon which such delay may be condoned.”

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